The piece, which has not seen or heard since 1909, was discovered in the music library at the University of Toronto.
Norwegian composer Johan Halvorsen’s violin concerto was believed lost for over a century. However the elusive composition has now been rediscovered in Canada, and a 21st-century premiere of the work is due to be given by violinist Henning Kraggerud under the direction of Bjarte Engeste in Norway this year as part of the International Musicological Society’s annual conference.
Born in 1864 in the city of Drammen, Halvorsen was a prolific and highly respected composer, violinist and conductor throughout his native Norway. During his lifetime he wrote over 30 operas, as well as three symphonies and at least two Norwegian rhapsodies. His violin concerto is dedicated to the violin prodigy Kathleen Parlow, who premiered the piece in Holland on August 14, 1909. Later that same year the composer directed another two performances of the concerto, but it is believed there have been no more performances during the 107 years since then.
After her soloist career Parlow continued to teach in Toronto until her death in 1963. Her papers, including scores and personal letters, were bequeathed to the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto. James Mason, who works at the University’s Music Library, found the concerto while digitising the library’s enormous collection of sheet music. “I came across this one which we thought was lost,” he told CBC News. “I brought it to my colleagues and was like, ‘Is this what I think it is?’” It’s not surprising that the sheet music went by unnoticed for so many years – the Music Library is the largest in Canada with over 300,000 books, scores and periodicals, and nearly 200,000 sound recordings in its collection.
The discovery of the concerto is even more remarkable given that Halvorsen had a reputation for destroying his own compositions, and indeed this had been the widely accepted fate of the concerto. “The legend is that he wasn’t happy with the review of Parlow’s concerts, so he destroyed the scores,” Mason said. “We didn’t know he made a copy for Parlow”. Acting Head Librarian Suzanne Meyers Sawa is delighted the concerto has at last been found. “We are so happy to be a part of the restoration of this work to the repertoire, and we look forward to participating in the symposium next summer where we will hear the piece performed for the first time in more than a century!”
Those eager to hear the composition will have to wait until its performance in Norway in July.